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  • Where Are the Cities?On Not Excluding (Much More Than) Half of the Latin Americans in Latin Americanist Geography
  • Nikolai A. Alvarado

latin america as a whole is the second most urbanized region in the world. Central America, the hemisphere's least urbanized sub-region, is urbanizing at a pace only surpassed by sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, after careful review of CLAG publications since 19724 over 1,200 articles, essays, and book reviews in total—I was able to identify only 102 articles that focused directly on urban geographical concepts, theories, or processes, or 135 if the count is expanded to include book reviews.1 Even the slightly higher figure only accounts for 11 percent of all CLAG publications. In other words, despite the urbanized nature of the region, CLAG's publication record continues to depict an overwhelmingly rural landscape.2 While there are many reasons for this, at its core, I believe, is the enduring legacy of Carl Sauer and his Berkeley School of Geography in the current approach to Latin Americanist geography in the United States. Sauer romanticized rural fieldwork and openly voiced an anti-urban bias (Skeels, 1993). Moreover, many, if not most, of his descendants continue to do fieldwork in the image and likeness of the maestro and continue to mentor new generations of Latin Americanist geographers in the U.S. (e.g. Doolittle, 1979; Knapp, 1984; Zimmerer, 1988; Bebbington, 1990; Coomes, 1992; Mathewson et al., 2020 [this issue]). To be sure, geographies of rural areas, of high mountains and forests, of campesinos, and of "traditional" and indigenous communities are of paramount importance to the overall story and understanding of our region; these contributions are not up for debate.

I am concerned, however, that the overrepresentation of rural settings has become a disciplinary practice that reflects and perpetuates an idea of Latin America as an "exotic venue" attracting visitors, including the scholar, due to "being appealingly different in environments, landscapes, peoples, and practices" (Gade, 2002, p. 12). The city in [End Page 193] this view is not one of these exotic, authentic spaces of Latin America but rather an unappealing deviation from the mundane urban living back at home in the U.S.3 It is imperative that we not continue to ignore the fact that 81 percent of Latin Americans do not live in el campo; certainly our flagship journal should aim to redress the perpetuation of this imagined rural geography.4 The time is right to reposition Latin American cities as key politicized spaces that distinctly "expose the socio-spatial processes that (re) produce inequalities between people and places" (Hubbard, Kitchin, Bartley, & Fuller, 2002, p. 62). A truly critical Latin Americanist geography that engages with "the most crucial scholarly and social debates of our times" (Gaffney, Freeman, Seemann, Finn, & Carter, 2016, p. 1) needs to seriously consider getting its boots dirty…in concrete.

is there space for the urban in clag?

I begin with a brief anecdote from the 2018 Conference of Latin American Geography in San José, Costa Rica. In July of 2017, I offered to lead a field trip to my field site, an informal urban settlement in San Jose known as La Carpio. As this is one of the most marginalized communities in the country, frequently stereotyped as a nest of illegal Nicaraguan migrants and crime, I saw the trip as an opportunity for CLAGistas to visit a place that, I suspect, even the vast majority of Costa Ricans have never been to and could not pinpoint on a map. The CLAG 2018 conference committee ultimately denied the request due to planning challenges but also because "we are trying to create the safest and most enjoyable conditions possible for CLAG, the collaborating institutions, and all the conference participants" (personal communication). In the end, the three field trips offered constituted a typical tourist itinerary: a coffee farm, the cloud forest in Monteverde, and the Caribbean lowlands where, I can only assume, hugging a sloth was a bonus. Despite not being able to include a field trip in and around the city where the conference was actually taking place, I was still able to lead, ironically enough, an "informal" field trip to...